GFPS opens Aug. 25, with mask requirement for elementary schoolers
Students return to classrooms at Great Falls Public Schools on Aug. 25 and at the elementary level, masks are required for the time being based on local COVID-19 transmission rates.
Last week, the GFPS Board of Trustees voted 6-1 to adopt a policy that authorizes Superintendent Tom Moore to implement or rescind health protocols in schools dependent on local COVID-19 transmission rates.
The policy is a modified version of what has been in place since March 2020, which required masks in all public schools.
Under the new policy, Moore could implement mask requirements in schools when local transmission rates are high or substantial, using this chart.
According to the Cascade County City-County Health Department, based on that chart, the community is currently at a substantial or high transmission rate.
“The CDC guidelines use a 7-day total case rate, whereas the rates we report are a 7-day average. So converting our last reported case rate of 55.3 per 100k average rate to a 7-day total rate, it was 387.14 per 100k. Or, to convert the CDC’s 100/100k threshold for a ‘high’ transmission level back to an average case rate like we report, that threshold would be 14.3,” according to CCHD last week.
As of Aug. 18, the county’s case rate was 55.31 per 100,000 and the positivity rate was 13 percent, according to CCHD.
For the beginning of the school year, Moore is requiring masks at the elementary level. He said during last week’s board meeting and during an Aug. 24 Facebook live that is due to the fact that the younger children don’t have the option to get vaccinated yet.
He’s strongly recommending masks at the middle and high school level, but not requiring it since those students have the option to get vaccinated, he said.
Some have said the district doesn’t have the legal authority to enact such a mask policy, but as of Aug. 24 no lawsuits had been filed locally regarding the policy.
Moore has referenced an Aug. 18 letter from the Montana Medical Association that was addressed to him recommending universal masking for K-12.
In the letter, the association wrote that “children represent 15 percent of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and hospitalizations of children due to COVID-19 are currently at an all-time high; many will struggle with long-term health consequences.”
According to the Aug. 15 state update on vaccinations, 28 percent of people aged 12-17 have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Masks will be required on buses, per a federal order, Moore said.
At the elementary level, when the mask rule is implemented, these would be the protocols, according to Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Ruth Uecker, during the Aug. 24 Facebook live.
GFPS is following the CCHD guidances on quarantine and isolation and CCHD is following guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
According to CCHD, “a vaccinated person who tests positive needs to follow the same isolation protocols as an unvaccinated person. The current CDC guideline for a vaccinated person who was exposed as a contact is as follows: “If you’ve had close contact with someone who has COVID-19, you should get tested 3-5 days after your exposure, even if you don’t have symptoms. You should also wear a mask indoors in public for 14 days following exposure or until your test result is negative. You should isolate for 10 days if your test result is positive.”
As of Aug. 24, there were 10,565 total cases in Cascade County and of those 664 are currently active, according to the state dashboard.
CCHD releases its weekly update on Wednesdays with case rate, positivity rate and variant information. Most of the new variant cases confirmed in Cascade County have been Delta, according to CCHD.
As of Aug. 23, there were 191 non-COVID and 22 COVID patients hospitalized at Benefis Health System, according to the state update, leaving 27 beds available.
There were 15 non-COVID and four COVID patients in the ICU at Benefis, leaving two beds available.
At Great Falls Clinic, there were nine non-COVID and six COVID patients hospitalized, leaving 21 beds available, according to the state data.
Moore said during the Aug. 24 Facebook live that he hopes the community will come together for the first day of school, despite their differing opinions on COVID-19.
Moore said that he’s asking “for some unity as we open the doors,” and that “I’m going to ask you to out aside some of our differences….and support our children.”